DOD, National Guard deploy in force to aid Hurricane Sandy relief effort

Nearly 8,000 National Guard troops have been sent to several states along the eastern seaboard to assist local authorities’ relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, with thousands of active duty and reserve forces set to move in if needed. 

Nearly 6,700 Guard and Reserve forces were initially sent into New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut and Maryland late Monday night, as the brunt of the storm hammered the East Coast, according to Defense Department (DOD) spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson. 

That number has swelled to 7,400 as area communities begin to dig out from the hurricane's aftermath, which left 39 people dead all along the mid-Atlantic region, a DOD statement issued Tuesday said. 

"These forces are providing critical assistance to local first responders and [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] with support at evacuation shelters, damage assessments, route clearance, debris reduction and removal, search and rescue, and delivery of essential equipment and supplies," according to the Pentagon. 

More than 61,100 Guard members, equipped with almost 140 helicopters remain in reserve "to perform search and rescue, reconnaissance and personnel or cargo-carrying missions," Crosson said in a statement issued late Monday. 

Massive flooding in New York City and elsewhere has likely caused untold billions in property damage while winds in excess of 60 to 70 mph knocked out power lines, leaving millions of residents without electricity as Sandy tore its way across the coast. 

The damage to New York City was “unlike this city has seen in decades, if ever,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said during a briefing Tuesday.

Water rose to the ceiling in one subway station in Lower Manhattan, he said, and a 40-foot boat moved by winds and water had landed across several Metro North regional rail lines. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James Winnefeld and Northern Command chief Army Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr. briefed President Obama on the department's ongoing relief efforts, according to reports by the Pentagon's American Forces Press Service (AFPS). 

Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is the primary military command responsible for humanitarian and disaster relief operations in the Continental United States. 

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate, National Hurricane Center Director Dr. Richard Knabb and senior counterterrorism adviser John Brennan were among the 16 administration officials who participated in a Tuesday briefing at the White House on those efforts.

While "immediate lifesaving and life sustaining activities," remained the primary focus of ongoing relief operations, the administration directed DOD and the Department of Energy to back up FEMA-led efforts to restore power to the thousands of homes left in the dark during the storm, according to AFPS. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with FEMA, is providing "public works and engineering expertise" to assist in providing temporary emergency power to those residents, according to the Pentagon. 

On Tuesday, the Pentagon has a number of its medium- and heavy-lift helicopters and aerial refueling aircraft on "24-hour prepare-to-deploy status to anticipated FEMA requests to mitigate or respond to the effects of the storm." 

Active duty elements from U.S. Northern Command's Joint Personnel Recovery Center are already in position to conduct search and rescue operations. 

Specifically, military para-rescue units are on station at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. for "potential logistical and search and rescue operations" along the coasts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, DOD says. 

U.S. Air Forces-Northern (AFNORTH), the service component at NORTHCOM, has also sent "emergency preparedness liaison officers" to assist local rescue efforts in the hardest hit portions of the country, Crosson said. 

Air Force-led "Joint Air Component Coordination Elements" are also in place in Philadelphia, Boston and Trenton, New Jersey to coordinate AFNORTH relief and rescue operations along the East Coast.